Discovering another vintage two-letter phone exchange on a West Side sign

Ephemeral New York readers know what a kick it is to come upon a faded ad, store sign, or building plaque that features an old New York City two-letter phone exchange—the kind that were officially replaced with numbers in the 1960s.

I’ve seen a few other Abramson Brothers plaques around Manhattan over the years. But this one, on West 52nd Street in Hell’s Kitchen, was new to me.

I concede these plaques look too spiffy to be made in the 1960s. Perhaps they come from the 1970s or 1980s, when generations of New Yorkers who grew up with the two-letter exchanges continued to be charmed by them.

Or maybe this real estate investment firm just likes the idea of a phone number acting as a geographical marker for where a household or business is located.

MU stood for Murray Hill—and 501 Fifth Avenue is on the edge of Murray Hill’s official borders.

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27 Responses to “Discovering another vintage two-letter phone exchange on a West Side sign”

  1. Fredric M. London Says:

    Call Murray Hill 7 7500, that’s Murray Hill 7 7500, Murray Hill 7 7500. Out of town please call collect.

  2. George Morgenweck Says:

    52nd street is (NOT) in Hell’s Kitchen, I can explain it if you like.

  3. Mark Says:

    I too remember that long ago commercial phrase. So I googled it.
    …” I still remember MUrray Hill 7-7500 from the commercials for Gimbels Custom Reupholstery that ran on New York’s WPIX-TV on weekday mornings….”

  4. countrypaul Says:

    In the short interregnum between named exchanges and all numbers, the phone company experimented with using two random letters. I remember a TL exchange, and always wondered if a word or a name could be made from it. It couldn’t.

  5. Thomas Comiskey Says:

    <

    div>I thought you might enjoy this graffiti. “Samo,” as I’m sure you know, was the graffiti tag of Jean Michel Basquiat, before he made his mark as a fine art genius. It is located

  6. Pearlman Katie Says:

    My maternal grandparents phone number was Murray Hill 7-0497. One of the first phone numbers I memorized at a young age!
    Great to have that memory again!

  7. velovixen Says:

    BUtterfield 8?

  8. Bob Smith Says:

    MUrray Hill was also the exchange for Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on “I Love Lucy” in the 1950s. I don’t remember their TV address but following the grid numbering system, it would’ve been in the middle of the East River.

    • countrypaul Says:

      Similarly (not related to phones), cross-street addresses on Law & Order are always somewhere out in the middle of either the East or Hudson rivers. (And of course, TV and movie exchanges have been “normalized” to 555, which I believe for internal phone company use.

      • Fredric M. London Says:

        Yes, just like in Home Alone 2, the townhouse address would not exist. The west side of Central Park is 8th Avenue, so a West address would not be just two digits. Now EAST Central Park could have a two digit number.

  9. JILL GILL Says:

    My old phone number at 235 East 22nd, now known as Gramercy House, was a MU 9 number and still is, with a friend still living there. There was also a MU 5 and the
    MU 7 above. So personal and comforting the names were…

  10. Jane K Says:

    any inforfmation about what happened to lions outside of the bedfored avenue Lohmanns? thx ________________________________

  11. Chris F Says:

    In Westchester we had TE4 for an actual exchange named Tennyson, and BE5 for Beverly which was more likely someone’s name.

    • countrypaul Says:

      I remember when “BEverly” was introduced in New Rochelle. The reaction was, “Who is Beverly”? I think TEnnyson (I alwats assumed Alfred, Lord Tennyson) had something historical to do with Larchmont and/or Mamaroneck, which is where I remember that exchange being located. Correct me if I’m wrong.

      • Chris F Says:

        You are correct Paul, in that the Tennyson exchange was located at the corner of Palmer Ave and Depot Way, next to the train station. Used to enjoy the Tennyson Lanes, a bowling alley on the first floor, with the exchange on the lower level. And Grandma in NeuRo had the Beverly exchange.

    • Bill B Says:

      In Manhattan TE stood for TEmpleton, my old exchange was TE8 at Third Avenue in the 60’s

  12. Gary Says:

    When giving out phone numbers one always said…PLaza 3 8991 or MUrry hill 8 9876. I don’t recall that only the first two letters were ever used orally.

  13. edgreenberg Says:

    I’m not really sure how to pass this on, but there is a wonderful old ’60s era sign in Crown Heights at 320 Kingston avenue. It is Raskins Fish Market. It proudly announces the telephone number, SL6-9521. SL6 is Slocum 6, a fine venerable telephone exchange now known only as 756. Being in Brooklyn, it was even stripped of it’s 212. My grandparents had a Slocum 6 telephone number as well. We were a block away, and had President 8. Google maps should be able to produce a fine picture of this. As will Google itself, if you search for Raskins Fish Market.

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